Molefe Seeletsa

By Molefe Seeletsa

Digital Journalist

National Assembly passes bill to recognise sign language as SA’s 12th official language

Majority of MPs expressed support for the Constitution 18th Amendment Bill.

Parliament has approved a bill that will recognise the South African sign language as one of the country’s official languages.

On Tuesday, majority of MPs in the National Assembly voted in favour of adopting the Constitution 18th Amendment Bill to make sign language the 12th official language.

The bill will now be sent to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) for approval before the legislation is signed into law by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Consequential amendments

While expressing support for the bill, ANC MP and chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services, Bulelani Magwanishe, warned that the passing of the bill might require consequential amendments to other existing laws.

“The committee notes that the South African sign language is mentioned in other legislation,” Magwanishe said.

Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Glynnis Breytenbach lamented the fact that it took more than a decade for the bill to be finalised and passed by the National Assembly.

“This is sadly an example of Parliament dragging its feet to the detriment of approximately four million deaf and hearing impaired South Africans,” she said.

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Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MP Yoliswa Yako also welcomed the bill.

“This also shows that there is nothing wrong with amending the Constitution every now and then, because society evolves and our understanding of issues evolves,” she said.

“The amendment of the Constitution to recognise sign language as one of the official languages should not even have been a matter of debate. This house must affirm that it has powers to include those excluded by lack of foresight of those who drafted the Constitution.”

Yako called for sign language to be introduced in schools across the country.

‘Only one small step’

Furthermore, African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) MP Steven Swart said the passing of the bill would only recognise sign language as an official language, but focus attention of the plight of hearing impaired and disabled people in the country.

GOOD MP Brett Herron highlighted that it was Parliament’s constitutional duty to build a nation that is inclusive.

“For too long, special needs, differently abled or disabled South Africans have been relegated to navigate a state that is unprepared and underdeveloped for them,” he said.

READ MORE: Sign language included as a subject for matric exam

Herron urged all spheres of governments to do more for those who are excluded because of their disability.

“By recognising [sign language] as a 12th official SA language, we take one giant step for the rights of deaf South Africans. But we take only one small step for the human dignity and rights of all South Africans who are excluded or underserviced because of their disabilities.”

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